His number is emblazoned on Columbine High's practice jersey and his initials are tattooed on one team member's arm.

Columbine's football players are Rebels with a cause, heading into today's state championship game against Cherry Creek High with a mission to win--not only for their school, but for Matt Kechter, a 16-year-old teammate who was slain during the April 20 massacre at their school in Littleton, Colo.

"We carry his number close to our heart," Columbine Coach Andy Lowry said. "Not only Matt, but all the victims. They're always in our thoughts and always in our prayers."

It will be the school's first trip to the state football championship since 1981.

"It's something that we needed," Principal Frank D'Angelis said. "It does have some special meaning. After what happened last April, I think people do not take anything for granted anymore."

In honor of their teammate, the Columbine Rebels, who are 12-1, wear Kechter's No. 70 on their navy blue practice jerseys and on their helmets. Lowry and his assistants display "MJK" on the back of their hats. Linebacker Zach Rauzi went a step further, tattooing his friend's initials and a cross on his arm.

"It's a big deal, since we're trying to state that we're making a comeback," said junior Shanna Geslin, who planned to attend the game. "I know a lot of the guys are dedicating their games to Matt, which is even more special."

The Rebels are sentimental favorites against Cherry Creek, a football powerhouse that has won the state title seven times this decade.

Golf

Els Leads by 2

Ernie Els shot a bogey-free, 6-under 66 and took a two-stroke lead over Colin Montgomerie halfway through the Million Dollar Golf Challenge at the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City, South Africa. Els was at 11-under 133 for 36 holes, and Montgomerie was second at 135 after a 69. Sergio Garcia began his round with five consecutive birdies and finished with a 67, tying for third at 138 with Lee Westwood (70).

Swimming

Moracova Wins Again

Martina Moracova won the 200-meter freestyle for her second victory of the meet and Jenny Thompson took the 100-meter butterfly last night at the U.S. Open swimming championships in San Antonio.

Lenny Krayzelburg set his second meet record in two nights, winning the 100-meter backstroke in 54.62 seconds. Thompson raced to the victory in 58.36 seconds, the fourth-fastest time in history.

Moracova beat out Australian Susan O'Neill in a close finish of the 200 freestyle to win in 1 minute 59.54 seconds. Moracova took the 200 IM title Thursday night.

Olympian Cristina Teuscher won by two seconds in the 400 IM with a time of 4:45.16.

Tennis

McEnroe Beats Connors

U.S. Davis Cup captain John McEnroe overwhelmed old rival Jimmy Connors, 6-1, 6-0, in a seniors event in London. . . .

MaliVai Washington, a finalist in 1996 at Wimbledon who reached No. 11 in the world rankings, retired from the ATP Tour. Washington, 30, ended his career because a 1997 knee injury has limited his activity the last three years.

Hockey

U.S. Women Win

Karen Bye scored three goals as the U.S. women's hockey team beat Finland, 5-3, to advance to the championship game of the Three Nations Cup in Montreal.

Cammi Granato had a goal and two assists, and Katie King added a goal and an assist for the Americans, 2-2 in round robin play. The United States will face Canada (3-0) in the championship Sunday.

Locally

Benefits Set

The 28th annual No Greater Love Operation Holiday Park is Monday at the Sheraton National in Arlington from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The event benefits children who have lost family members in service to America or by an act of terrorism. Redskins defensive end Kenard Lang will play Santa Claus. Other Redskins players will pass out gifts and sign autographs. . . . Redskins wives will be at the Dec. 12 game against Arizona collecting food donations. Those attending the game are encouraged to bring nonperishable food items.

CAPTION: Tori Murden is first American and first woman to row across Atlantic Ocean alone. Trip took 81 days.